Formed in 1993, Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2) (French : Deuxième Force opérationnelle interarmées) is an elite Canadian Special Forces unit responsible for counter-terrorist operations. Subordinate to the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, it comprises approximately 300 to 600 members.
The Government of Canada has historically been very secretive about JTF2’s capabilities, organization and operational missions.
History of the unit
“[JTF2] makes a significant contribution whenever deployed…but because of its specialized nature, as well as its focus on counter-terrorism, Joint Task Force 2 is not staffed at levels to train and operate in some of the other important Special Forces’ mission areas.”
—Ambassador Paul Cellucci, 2005
In 1992, Deputy Minister of Defence Robert Fowler announced he was recommending to Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn that he disband the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s SERT unit and create a new military counter-terrorism group. The decision was made largely because the Canadian Forces offered better-trained recruits for the program than civilian police forces, and it stemmed the public uproar about police being taught to use primarily lethal means.
In early 1993, the unit was activated with just over 100 members, primarily drawn from the Canadian Airborne Regiment and PPCLI. They were given the SERT facility on Dwyer Hill Road in Ottawa as their own base of operations, and permanently parked a Greyhound bus and a DC-9 aircraft on the grounds for use in training.
Its first scheduled action was Operation Campus, the protection of highways and water treatment plants around the Oka reserve while a police force tried to “crack down on smuggling” on the native reserve, immediately following the Oka crisis. However two daily newspapers in Quebec revealed the operation just days before it was to go into action, and it was canceled.
The federal budget of December 2001 allocated approximately $120 million over six years to expand unit capabilities and double its size to an estimated 600 forces, as part of the overall plan following the attacks of 11 September 2001.
Selection and training
JTF 2 candidates may be of either sex and can come from all branches of the Canadian Forces. Candidates for JTF 2 are expected to be physically fit, capable of high levels of stamina and mental endurance.
JTF2 personnel are divided into two categories: Category A – special operations assaulters (SOA) who are directly employed in the tactical aspects of special operations and other high value tasks; and Category B – support and specialist personnel (SP) fill positions in staff officer, support, and specialist positions. This category also includes the special operations coxswain position.
Support and specialist members selection process
Candidates for the specialists and support roles also go through a selection process, however, there are differences compared to the selection process for assaulter candidates. The main difference is that they do not have to take the seven-month SOAC. In Phase I candidates submit their applications through their unit’s chain of command. During Phase II, the candidate must successfully complete the CF Express Test or Specialist Physical Fitness Test, however, they do not have to complete the CF Swim Test and the screening process is done at a later phase than in the assaulters application process. In Phase III the candidates application, fitness test results and related documentation is forwarded to JTF2 for review. Specialist and support candidates do not do a seven-day selection. Finally, during the Phase IV process the candidates are invited for a job interview and psychological testing. Postings for specialist and support average four to six years in length depending on rank and experience level.
Special operations coxswain selection process
Prior to selection, candidates for special operations coxswain positions must undergo a four-phase selection process. In Phase I the candidates submit their application through their unit’s chain of command. During Phase II the candidates must pass the JTF2 Specialist Physical Fitness Test and the CF Swim Test. In addition, they must take the same screening test that assaulter candidates take to determine their suitability for JTF2. In Phase III the candidates undertake a four-day assessment process. During this assessment the candidates are pushed to their physical and mental limits under physical and mental duress. Here they are assessed on the following criteria:
Physical fitness (aerobic and anaerobic);
Performing effectively at heights, in water and in confined spaces;
Emotional stability; and
In Phase IV the candidates attend a three-month Special Operations Coxswain Course (SOCC) where they are trained in the following skills:
Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) RHIOT (Rigid Hull Inflatable Operator Training);
CCG Small Boat Course;
Special insertion and extraction techniques;
Advanced shooting; and
Medical and communication skills.
After the successful completion of the SOCC, the candidates may be selected to serve as coxswains with JTF2. Some of the skills the coxswains can expect to use include:
Preparing, launching and high speed tactical driving of the Special Operations Craft (SOC);
Navigating to and from operational and training objectives;
Performing user maintenance on the SOC, vehicles and trailers; and
Proficiently and safely handling a variety of civilian and military weapons.
JTF2 forces were inserted into Bosnia, operating in 2-man teams hunting for Serbian snipers who were targeting UN forces at the sniper alley. They were scheduled to free approximately 400 hostages in Operation Freedom 55, but again the mission was canceled as the Bosnian Serbs released all the prisoners voluntarily.
Approximately 40 JTF2 Assaulters were sent to southern Afghanistan in early December 2001, although the Canadian public was not informed of the deployment, following the American declaration of a War on Terror.
Several months later, the Globe and Mail published an image on its front page showing Canadian forces delivering captured prisoners to the Americans, prompting an outcry in Parliament as they were never informed these operations were underway. Vice Admiral Greg Maddison was called before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to address claims that Minister of Defence Art Eggleton had purposely misled the public and the government, even failing to inform the Prime Minister that JTF2 had been operating in Afghanistan.
In 2004, an estimated 40 members of JTF2 serving with Task Force KBAR were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by the United States government for service in Afghanistan. Very little is known on JTF2 operations in Afghanistan, but during a conference the former Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, stated that JTF2 is in “high demand” and that they are considered to be “world class.” He went on to say that the unit is providing direct support to the Afghanistan government and is targeting the Taliban leadership in southern Afghanistan. He stated that “trying to help neutralize those leaders is a key part of their role and that’s what they will continue to do.”
Members of JTF2 have also been rumored to have received the Victoria Cross (VC) after operations in Afghanistan.
In 1996, JTF2 deployed to Haiti to advise the security forces of President Rene Preval on methods to repel the revolutionary army, train local SWAT teams and raid weapons smugglers in Port au Prince.
According to the CBC, JTF2 was also in Haiti at the time that Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from power in 2004. They protected the Canadian embassy and secured the airport.
On Thursday, 23 March 2006, The Pentagon and the British Foreign Office both commented on the instrumental role JTF2 played in rescuing the British and Canadian Christian Peacemaker Team that were being held hostage in Iraq. But implication of JTF2 was unconfirmed by Canadian officials.
There has been much speculation in the Canadian media on possible JTF2 operational deployments. Speculation has focused on Nepal, Congo, Sudan, Bolivia and in conflicts involving First Nations groups in Ontario and British Columbia, and other local security threats. As of 2001, the unit had only 297 members, but by the end of the year, with the War on Terror becoming a reality, the federal government announced their intentions to increase it to 600 members within four years.
Vice-Admiral P. Dean McFadden also confirmed that JTF2 would take a role in securing the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics.
JTF2 has also acted as bodyguards to Canadians traveling abroad, notably accompanying Lieutenant General Maurice Baril and Raymond Chrétien to Zaire in November 1996.[When photographs provided to the media were revealed to show the faces of JTF2 forces, they were redacted and reissued with the faces removed. In 1998, they accompanied General Romeo Dallaire to Tanzania where he was due to testify against a Rwandan Hutu official accused of complicity in the 1994 genocide. They similarly accompanied War Crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour into Kosovo. In early November 2000, Conservative Defence Critic David Price stated that JTF2 had been deployed to Kosovo, however, this was denied by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Defence Minister Art Eggleton.
In his book Enduring the Freedom, Sean M. Maloney reported that during operations in Afghanistan, Canada’s JTF2 was the only foreign unit accepted to join American Tier 1 special operations units, such as 1st SFOD-D (Delta Force) and DEVGRU in Task Force 11 whose job it was to hunt high value Al Qaeda and Taliban personnel.
The Joint Task Force 2 was accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. According to a doccument obtained by Radio-Canada and CBC, members of the JTF-2 were accused of killing a Taliban operative who was in the process of surrendering, the members were later cleared by an investigation conducted by the military police. The same unit is now under investigation of having witnessed a crime committed by U.S. Special Forces.
On 21 December 2006, a Federal Court judge rejected a request to proceed with a court martial against an unnamed JTF2 officer, accused of assaulting and mistreating a subordinate, because court martial requests require that the accused be named. The judge suggested that they explore other avenues to proceed with the court martial.
The JTF2 has acknowledged the loss of one member in a combat operation. Master Cpl. Anthony Klumpenhouwer, 25, died on April 18, 2007, after falling off a communications tower in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Colt Canada C7, C8, C8SFW series of rifles
FN Herstal P90 personal defence weapon
Heckler & Koch MP5A3 sub machine guns
SIG Sauer pistols
HMMWV light amoured personnel carrier with M2 Browning machine gun (phasing out, per March 2009)
Jackal MWMIK amoured personnel carrier (phasing in, per March 2009)
References in popular culture
In 2002, author David Pugliese published a book, Canada’s Secret Commandos: The Unauthorized Story of Joint Task Force Two. In 2008, Denis Morisset, a former member of JTF2 published a book about JTF2, named Nous étions invincibles (English translation: “We were invincible”).
JTF2’s secrecy has kept the unit out of the Canadian public eye for quite some time, though it did appear in the Tom Clancy Rainbow Six video game series. A character named Roger McAllen, who was part of the former Royal Canadian Mounted Police SERT, ported over to JTF2 when they were handed over responsibility for counter-terrorism duties in 1993.
Recently, JTF2 has entered the public eye in the Canadian television series The Border and Flashpoint, which introduce characters from the unit